John Lewis, the U.S. Congressman from Georgia who recently died, spoke these profound words in a speech that have inspired me, “When you pray, move your feet.”
Lewis’ life is a lesson for us — to live a life of balanced prayer and action. His words resonate, “Without prayer, without faith in the Almighty, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.” Faith sustained him in the midst of the struggle to strive for equality and fairness.
If we focus only on action, we wear ourselves out and think we can only do it by ourselves. We then overcompensate by not taking the time to listen to the Divine within in solitude and quiet.
If we rely solely on prayer for self-
satisfaction and forget our neighbor, we overlook the schema, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
We need to be prayerful people and people of action. They intersect. We can’t have one without the other.
For Christians, Jesus is a model and guide for us. Pay attention to the Gospel accounts — the rhythm of Jesus alone with the Divine and Jesus with the people.
After preaching and healing those in need, Jesus went to a mountain, a lake or a desert to pray. After praying, he returned to the people to continue his works of teaching and caring for others.
St. Francis of Assisi, in the medieval ages, often spent time in prayer in caves. When he asked his closest friends what he should be doing — choose preaching or being contemplative — they responded after discerning among themselves, “Minister by preaching.”
Francis and one of his friars set out to preach in a nearby village. After walking through it, the friar asked Francis, “I thought we were to preach.” Francis responded, “We just did.” In tradition, the phrase is attributed to Francis, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.”
There is a story: A man was walking through his neighborhood when he heard the voice of God say, “Sit and pray.” He looked around, found a park bench and sat down to pray. As he prayed, he saw a man struggling with a heavy burden and again heard the voice of God say, “Help that man.”
He got up, went to the man and assisted him in carrying his load for a couple of blocks. He heard the voice of God say, “Sit and pray.” As he prayed, a bus pulled up. A woman and her child got off the bus. The child was misbehaving and the mother was frustrated.
He heard the voice of God say, “Encourage that woman.” The man got up, initiated a conversation with the woman and spoke words of hope, assuring her that she was a good mother and calming the child. He turned to walk home when he again heard the words, “Sit and pray.”
“Why don’t you make up your mind?” the man said to God. “I made up my mind long ago,” responded God. “People who follow me are to find a balance between a life of prayer and a life of action. For if all you do is pray, you become a pious hermit living in a cave. But if all you do is act, you become a godless zealot doing nice things that have no lasting impact.”
“So how do I know which one to do?” asked the man. ”Remember what I said in Proverbs 3:6: “Acknowledge me in everything that you do and I will guide you and make your paths straight.”
From that day on, he lived a life of prayer and action and was never the same. And neither was the world around him.
Citing the African proverb spoken by Lewis, we say, “When we pray, move our feet.”
May we respond to all who need our support and care: When we pray, move our feet.
May we consciously open our hearts to all those in need: When we pray, move our feet.
May we live in unity with all peoples, welcoming diversity of race, gender, religion, ability and culture: When we pray: move our feet.
In gratitude for the goodness of our brothers and sisters: When we pray, move our feet.